29 January 2014

on memorizing poetry

I went to a Coffee Talk last week that has me thinking about memorizing poetry. The focus of the talk was a reflection on Harold Coward's lecture from the previous evening. I hadn't be able to attend his lecture, but I really wish I had.

In the talk, he spoke a bit about learning orally/aurally--how vital memorization is to fully understanding a text. There was discussion on how in many religious practices, the sacred text is memorized and this knowledge is passed down from teacher to student. Christianity used to have a much stronger oral tradition that seems to have disappeared in the mid 19th Century (reasons to me were not clear).

Harold spoke of how important it is for young children to memorize things (texts, facts, etc) as these are the foundations of their future knowledge.

Of course, this got me thinking of my own children. My eldest is a whiz at memorizing and has always done it for fun. He used to (may still) have all the countries in the world memorized. He reads a book more than once and has it mostly memorized.

My youngest is two and she's loved Julie Morstad's illustrated book of Robert Louis Stevenson's The Swing ever since she was given it--over half her life, now! The boys and I quickly memorized the poem to recite to her. After Howard's talk, I realized that other than sections of my own poems and Leonard Cohen's "Marita", it's the only poem I have memorized.

This needs to change.

I went to FB and asked what poems and why people have memorized. Over twenty people responded and almost all of them named poems--there was Shakespeare, Millay, Frost, Hardy, and many others, with very few repetitions. And what heartened me the most was that not everyone who responded were writers. That shouldn't surprise me, but it did, in the best possible way.

I once went to a reading where a poet put her book aside and recited a poem of her own. It was a true recitation and the delivery sounded like a child reciting "In Flanders Fields." This put me off wanting to memorize my own work, though through osmosis I have done so. I doubt I'll ever recite a poem completely from memory at a reading in fear of it becoming a parlour trick or transporting everyone back to grade three, but when I do read certain poems, they are mostly from memory.

There are a few poems I love and I'm going to attempt to memorize them, just for the joy of it.

(And then, of course, I remembered this video. Oh, Lynda Barry, you are brilliant.)

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